Guest Post: Barbara Margolis Rescues a Georgetown Basement

Talk about a dramatic before and after. Silver Spring designer Barbara Margolis comes to us this week with an account of how she uplifted a truly depressing basement apartment that was being occupied by her client’s son. “Man cave” doesn’t even begin to describe what she was up against. Take it away, Barbara!

Barbara Margolis

Barbara Margolis

When Julie called for help with the renovation of her basement apartment, I knew there would be considerable challenges. She wanted to create a nice environment for her son, who was the occupant at the time. Patrick, a student, was using the bedroom space as if it were a dorm room—all entertaining with friends was centered in this room. The bed was the gaming, eating, and studying space.



The main living space was not being used at all. It was storage for his weights and a special chair that he created in wood shop class, both of which had to stay.



Julie wanted to create a space better suited to entertain friends, to eat or to study.



The problem was access to the apartment, which was located on the lower level of a centuries-old Georgetown townhouse. The spiral staircase leading from the main level to the basement was 24 inches wide. There was no alleyway, hence no access from the rear into the basement. All furniture had to be brought through the front door, through the entire length of the main living space, carried out to the backyard, and down the stairs to the basement door. On top of that, all doorways were only 28 inches wide—a standard doorway is 32 inches.

To solve this problem, I designed a colorful, storage-filled space using mostly simple, ready-to assemble furniture with removable legs. An armless sofa with removable legs became the focus of the sitting area and was easily carried through the narrow opening. All furniture legs were attached after delivery into the space. Indoor/outdoor fabrics for pillows and a colorful rug complete the people-friendly space. The barbells and chair were re-used in the main living area. The apartment was repainted to create a fresh, brighter space; lighting was changed to augment the lack of natural daylight.



For the dining area, a drop leaf table serves as a study space, or seating for four people. Since it was part of the larger living space, all fabrics were coordinated. The dining chairs easily transition to the other side of the room for additional seating. A bright turquoise wall and Kelly green accent wall behind the bookcase (Patrick’s favorite color) create a focal point for the eating area.




In the bedroom, we used two West Elm dressers and had a common top made to create the “L” shape that Patrick wanted. By doing the top separately, we were able to install the legs on the dressers, put them in place, and then install the top, making entry into the apartment easy. The bedroom wall was painted a bright blue to match new bedding. Two large bolsters turn the bed into a comfortable seating area for Patrick and his gaming buddies, as was their established pattern.





We even carved out space at the door for organizing coats and shoes.


All in all, the project was fun, Patrick and his mom love it, and we didn’t have to widen any doorways to make it happen!



  1. Great job of taking into consideration who was going to occupy the space! I wonder how long it stayed looking so beautifully styled and tidy?! 🙂